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Aging in Place: A Brief Introduction to NORCs

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It can be easier to Age in Place when you are part of a naturally occurring retirement community (NORC). A NORC is a community that was not originally designed for seniors, but that has gradually begun to have a high proportion of older residents. More specifically, the term denotes any community in which 40 percent of the population is aged 60 or over and lives in their own homes. This could be an apartment complex or a few adjacent neighborhoods. These associations are often used as a way to forgo moving to a senior living facility, thereby allowing the members to Age in Place. These types of communities began to appear in the mid-1980s, and they are now spreading across the country as seniors are looking at their future housing options. It is estimated that about 5,000 urban NORCs currently exist in the United States.1

What Does a NORC Entail?

Beyond being naturally occurring, NORCs do not follow one codified example, although some do have certain qualities in common. For example, many NORCs will elect some type of board to make decisions for the community. NORCs can become NORC-SSPs, or naturally occurring retirement communities – supportive services programs. NORC-SSPs provide their members with more services in exchange for dues. A few of these services include:

  • Health care management
  • Home repair
  • Group activities
  • Food delivery
  • Legal & financial advice
  • Mental health counseling
  • Disease management

NORC-SSPs frequently rely on government or philanthropic subsidies. Without this assistance, many NORC-SSPs fail to last. Although there might be some local ordinances that NORCs must follow, they are not regulated at the state or federal level. This makes it different than most other forms of senior housing.

It is worth noting that a NORC is not a senior village. To reiterate, a senior village is a membership-based organization with a paid staff. NORCs do not have this staff to rely on. It is usually the members’ responsibility to plan and develop the NORC, so they decide how the group is run. In general, a senior village will offer more services to its members than a NORC does. Villages and NORCs cater to different needs, so it is important to know what you want from your senior living community before signing up.

Examples of NORCs

To better understand what a NORC is, it might help to examine a few that already exist:

  • Lincoln Towers: Located in New York City, Lincoln Towers were originally built as a rent-stabilized complex in the 1960s. At the moment, about 40 percent of the residents are over 60. To meet the needs of the senior residents, the NORC created Project Open, an outreach program that helps connect the community’s older members through activities and provides services (like grocery shopping) to help them Age in Place.
  • Tierrasanta Project: This San Diego naturally occurring retirement community has more than 5,500 seniors. Many of the current homeowners moved to the area in the 1970s, when the neighborhoods in Tierrasanta were built. These residents wanted to remain in their homes as long as possible, so they formed a NORC. They often have workshops and group activities, usually led by retired professionals from their community.
  • St. Louis NORC: Covering a three-mile area in suburban St. Louis County, the St. Louis NORC connects seniors through classes and get-togethers to keep them engaged in their community. The NORC also helps them accomplish routine tasks around the house, making it easier to remain in their homes. U.S. News & World Report featured the St. Louis NORC as model of Aging in Place.2

Benefits of Living in a NORC

As we mentioned earlier, NORCs can provide a lot of resources that the members might not have been able to access without the group. Buying these services in bulk could also mean that the NORCs get a better deal, which would mean paying less in membership fees.

NORCs can give people a safety net in the neighborhood that they have grown to know and love. Moving can be stressful at any age, but it is especially hard for seniors. If you have become attached to the place you live, then it might be difficult to leave behind not only your house, but also your friends and neighbors. If you would like to stay in your current home after retirement, consider encouraging senior support programs and communities to help your own neighborhood flourish into a NORC.

It’s common for NORCs to organize group activities (like book clubs, museum tours, picnics or exercise classes) so that friends and neighbors can interact with each other more frequently. These gatherings can cut down on senior isolation and the accompanying depression and anxiety, potentially adding years to a person’s life. In fact, living in a sociable and pleasant neighborhood or community has been linked to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke.3

Remember, NORCs are Not Perfect

We have to remember that NORCs are not an adequate replacement for when home care or assisted living services are needed. These communities primarily benefit seniors who are healthy enough to live at home. If you do not think that you can inhabit your home safely in the immediate future, then a NORC will likely not be able to give you the assistance you need.

A NORC will usually reflect its users. If the members put a lot of effort into running their community, then they will likely have a well-developed system that offers more resources and benefits to each person involved. If the members do not all see eye-to-eye on the community, then problems may arise, ultimately hurting the community.

  1. Connected to the Community: Current Aging-in-Place Choices
  2. NORCs: Unique Havens for an Aging America
  3. Home Care Supports Our Senior Neighbors
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